In a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdeitch by name. He lived in a small basement room whose one window looked out onto the street, and all he could see were the feet of people passing by. But since there was hardly a pair of boots that had not been in his hands at one time for repair, Martin recognized each person by his shoes. Day after day, he would work in his shop, watching boots pass by. One day he found himself consumed with the hope of a dream that he would find the Lord’s feet outside his window. Instead, he found a lingering pair of worn boots belonging to an old soldier. Though at first disappointed, Martin realized the old man might be hungry and invited him inside to a warm fire and some tea. He had other visitors that evening, and though sadly none were Christ, he let them in also. Sitting down at the end of day, Martin heard a voice whisper his name as he read the words: “I was hungry and you gave me meat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in. Inasmuch as you did for the least of these, you did unto me.”(1)
Every Christmas, our family reads the story of Martin the Cobbler as an aid to our celebration. Tolstoy’s words offer something of a creative attempt to capture the wonder of a God who comes near and helps us picture the gift of Christ among us in accessible terms. Notably, the story was originally titled, Where God Is, Love Is.
The Christian story that informs the Christian calendar gives its followers time and opportunity to remember the coming of Christ in a specific context—in Bethlehem, in the Nativity, in the first Christmas. But it also presents repeated opportunities and reminders to prepare for the coming of Christ again and again. Like Martin eagerly waiting at the window, the Christian worldview is one that asks of every day of every year: How will Christ come near today? Will I wait for him? Am I ready for him? Am I even expecting to find him? We are reminded to keep watch, to be prepared, and to continually ready our hearts and minds for the one who is already near. At the same time, the Christian story would also have us to remember how unexpectedly Christ at times appears—as a baby in Bethlehem, a man on a cross, as a woman in need.
In the book of Titus, we read that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people.” How and where will grace show up this week? In order to stay alert to the rich possibilities, perhaps we need to keep before us the radical thought of all that God has offered: a Christ child who comes down to us, a redeemer willing to die for us, a God willing to redefine what is near—all so that we might be where God is. Christianity is not an escape system for us to avoid reality, to live above it, or to be able to redefine it. Christianity is a way that leads the world to grasp what reality is and, by God’s grace and help, to navigate through it to our eternal home in God’s presence.
The story God has given indeed feeds the hungry, takes in the stranger, and orients the resident alien who is ever-looking homeward. The focus of Christ’s coming is the message of Immanuel—God is with us. The focus of Christ’s earthly ministry is the declaration of the cross—God is for us. And the focus of Christ’s resurrection is the promise of a future and his imminent return—God will bring us safely home. Until then, God is among us, even when it seems most unlikely.
Stuart McAllister is vice president of training and special projects at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Story told in Leo Tolstoy’s, Walk in the Light While There Is Light and Twenty-three Tales (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003).